Business Networking Tips for Introverts
Chances are you’ve heard a lot about how important it is for small business owners to make the most of networking opportunities. There’s undisputed value in striving to constantly expand your base of potential clients, industry connections, and professional acquaintances.
Sounds great in principle, right? But what if you’re an introvert, the kind of person who shies away from meeting strangers and seldom feels comfortable sharing thoughts or feelings?
Fear not! Not all networking opportunities need to be chaotic, loud, and nerve-wracking. By following these tips, introverts can adopt their own style for mixing and mingling, one that’s comfortable and calm.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not
Ever get the feeling that extroverts are the planet’s preferred personality type, held up to the rest of us as shining examples? If you’re an introvert at a networking event, resist the pressure to emulate the extroverts around you. It’s important not to stray too far from your comfort zone by trying to be someone you’re not. Authenticity is important, especially when the goal is lasting, meaningful connections, so remember to be yourself, whatever that may be.
Come prepared with questions and an introduction
If you find breaking the ice with a stranger is a big challenge, it’s helpful to know what you’re going to ask before you even meet. Ahead of your next networking session, decide on one thing, or a few things, you want to learn from your fellow attendees. The come up with a couple of simple questions designed to get the conversation moving in the right direction.
If you don’t have a desired outcome beyond meeting new people, it helps to have a few standard questions to pose or anecdotes to share with whoever you end up chatting to. For instance, you can always ask how someone got started in their field, or what part of their professional life they’re most passionate about. Work on the wording, even write them down and practice if you want, so you’re not stumbling over your questions and feeling self-conscious when the moment comes.
While you’re preparing, don’t forget to come up with a quick introduction for yourself. Keep it short, say 10-20 seconds of speech that says who you are, what you do, and what makes you interesting.
Good networking is about more than sharing your side of the story. It’s just as important to tune in to what people are telling you. For many introverts, listening is easier than speaking, so make the most of that ability by being a careful, active listener with each new connection you make.
Be aware of body language
The way we present ourselves can have a big impact on our interactions, so try to smile, remember to make eye contact, stand up straight, and don’t keep your arms folded across your chest. Avoid hanging out in a corner, and don’t simply stare into your phone – turn it off or put it away.
Bring a buddy
If you can’t handle the idea of facing a room full of strangers without knots forming in your stomach, consider taking a friend or colleague along to help you relaxed. A friendly face in your midst, and someone else to shoulder the small-talk load whenever conversation flags, can be invaluable to the introverts among us.
Another approach for introverts is to avoid crowds altogether and restrict networking to smaller sessions, preferably just you and one other person. Whether it’s just a cup of coffee, a meal or even a round of golf, the intimate setting tends to promote more meaningful interactions, and an ideal opportunity for introverts to demonstrate their superior listening skills. Be advised, however, that with just the two of you together, there’s the possibility of stress for those who are uncomfortable with silences and struggle to fill pauses in the conversation.
Reach out online
Are face-to-face interactions just too stressful for you? Don’t despair, go digital. Perhaps you’d fare better by doing your socializing via social media, or other online channels. An exchange of messages on LinkedIn or Twitter can often be easier for an introvert to navigate than a room full of unfamiliar faces.
Don’t overdo it
No matter what kind of networking you’re doing, from trade show appearances to online exchanges to casual cups of coffee, don’t do too much at once. Take breaks or limit your networking time to a fixed amount. Schedule something quiet or relaxed after in case you need to calm down and chill out before returning to work or tackling whatever is next. Also, make sure you’re rested (and well-fed) before you start any networking.
Don’t get discouraged
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the fact is not all your networking experiences are going to work out perfectly. There will inevitably be awkwardness, the occasional gaffe, and people you simply don’t hit it off with. When that happens, don’t get down on yourself. Just chalk it up to practice and push on.